Lee and Kirby wanted to introduce a character that broke away from the archetype of the standard villain. In the character's first appearance, Galactus was depicted as a god-like figure who feeds by draining living planets of their energy, and operates without regard to the morality and judgments of mortal beings. Galactus' initial origin was that of a space explorer named Galan who gained cosmic abilities by passing near a star, but writer Mark Gruenwald further developed the origin of the character, revealing that Galan lived during the previous universe that existed prior to the Big Bang which began the current universe. As Galan's universe came to an end, Galan merged with the "Sentience of the Universe" to become Galactus, an entity that wielded such cosmic power as to require devouring entire planets to sustain his existence. Additional material written by John Byrne, Jim Starlin, and Louise Simonson explored Galactus' role and purpose in the Marvel Universe, and examined the actions of the character through themes of genocide, manifest destiny, ethics, and natural/necessary existence. Frequently accompanied by a herald (such as the Silver Surfer), the character has appeared as both antagonist and protagonist in central and supporting roles. Since debuting in the Silver Age of Comic Books, Galactus has played a role in over five decades of Marvel continuity.
In 2009, Galactus ranked 5th on IGN's list of "Top 100 Comic Book Villains", citing the character's "larger than life presence" as making him one of the more important villains ever created. IGN also noted "Galactus is one of the few villains on our list to really defy the definition of an evil-doer" as the character is compelled to destroy worlds because of his hunger.
In 1966, nearly five years after launching Marvel Comics' flagship superhero title, Fantastic Four, creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborated on an antagonist designed to break the supervillain mold of the tyrant with god-like stature and power. As Lee recalled in 1993,
Galactus was simply another in a long line of super-villains whom we loved creating. Having dreamed up such powerful baddies as the Mole Man, the Frightful Four, the Grey Gargoyle, the Executioner, the Mandarin and Dr. Doom, we felt the only way to top ourselves was to come up with an evil-doer who had almost godlike powers. Therefore, the natural choice was sort of a demi-god, but now what would we do with him? We didn't want to use the tired old cliche about him wanting to conquer the world. There were enough would-be world conquerors in the Marvel Universe and in all the other comic book galaxies. That was when inspiration struck. Why not have him not be a really evil person? After all, a demi-god should be beyond mere good and evil. He'd just be (don't laugh!) hungry. And the nourishment he'd require is the life force and energy from living planets!
Kirby described his Biblical inspirations for Galactus and an accompanying character, an angelic herald Lee called the Silver Surfer:
My inspirations were the fact that I had to make sales and come up with characters that were no longer stereotypes. In other words, I couldn't depend on gangsters. I had to get something new. For some reason, I went to the Bible, and I came up with Galactus. And there I was in front of this tremendous figure, who I knew very well because I've always felt him. I certainly couldn't treat him in the same way I could any ordinary mortal. And I remember in my first story, I had to back away from him to resolve that story. The Silver Surfer is, of course, the fallen angel. When Galactus relegated him to Earth, he stayed on Earth, and that was the beginning of his adventures. They were figures that had never been used before in comics. They were above mythic figures. And of course they were the first gods.
Kirby elaborated, "Galactus in actuality is a sort of god. He is beyond reproach, beyond anyone's opinion. In a way he is kind of a Zeus, who fathered Hercules. He is his own legend, and of course, he and the Silver Surfer are sort of modern legends, and they are designed that way."
Writer Mike Conroy expanded on Lee and Kirby's explanation: "In five short years from the launch of the Fantastic Four, the Lee/Kirby duo ... had introduced a whole host of alien races or their representatives ... there were the Skrulls, the Watcher and the Stranger, all of whom Lee and Kirby used in the foundations of the universe they were constructing, one where all things were possible but only if they did not flout the 'natural laws' of this cosmology. In the nascent Marvel Universe, characters acted consistently, whatever comic they were appearing in. Their actions reverberated through every title. It was pure soap opera but on a cosmic scale, and Galactus epitomized its epic sweep."
This led to the introduction of Galactus in Fantastic Four #48–50 (March–May 1966), which fans began calling "The Galactus Trilogy". Kirby did not intend Galactus to reappear, to preserve the character's awe-inspiring presence. Fan popularity, however, prompted Lee to ask Kirby for Galactus's reappearance, and the character became a mainstay of the Marvel Universe.
First cover appearance of Galactus: Fantastic Four #49 (April 1966). Art by penciller and character co-creator Jack Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott.
To preserve the character's mystique, his next two appearances were nonspeaking cameos in Thor #134 (Nov. 1966), and Daredevil #37 (Feb. 1968), respectively. Numerous requests from fans prompted the character to be featured heavily in Fantastic Four #72–77 (March–Aug. 1968). After a flashback appearance in Silver Surfer #1 (Aug. 1968), the character returned to Earth in Thor #160–162 (Jan. – March 1969). Galactus' origin was eventually revealed in Thor #168–169 (Sept. – Oct. 1969).
1970s and 1980s
The character made appearances in Fantastic Four #120–123 (March – June 1972) and Thor #225–228 (July–Oct. 1974). These two storylines introduced two new heralds for Galactus. Galactus also featured in Fantastic Four #172–175 (July – Oct. 1976) and #208–213 (July – Dec. 1979).
The character guest-starred in Rom #26–27 (Jan. – Feb. 1982). Galactus featured in two related storylines of Fantastic Four #242–244 (May–July 1982) and #257 (August 1983). Another appearance in Fantastic Four #262 (Jan. 1984) sparked controversy. At the end of the story, Eternity, an abstract entity in the Marvel Universe, appears to validate the existence of Galactus; Howard University professor of literature Marc Singer criticized this, accusing writer-artist John Byrne of using the character to "justify planetary-scale genocide." Byrne and Stan Lee also collaborated on a one-shot Silver Surfer story (June 1982) in which it is revealed that after the Surfer's rebellion against Galactus, the planet eater returned to Zenn-La, the Surfer's homeworld, and drained it of energy after allowing the populace to flee.
Writer-penciller John Byrne and inker Terry Austin produced "The Last Galactus Story" as a serial in the anthology comic-magazine Epic Illustrated #26–34 (October 1984–February 1986). Nine of a scheduled ten installments appeared. Each was six pages with the exception of the eighth installment (12 pages). The magazine was canceled with issue #34, leaving the last chapter unpublished and the story unfinished; however, Byrne later published the conclusion on his website. Galactus played a pivotal role in the limited seriesSecret Wars #1–12 (May 1984 – April 1985), and became a recurring character in the third volume of the Silver Surfer (beginning with issue #1, July 1987).
Stan Lee and artist John Buscema also produced the 64-page hardcover Silver Surfer: Judgment Day (Oct. 1988), in which Galactus clashes with demonic entity Mephisto.
Galactus was featured in the miniseries Infinity Gauntlet #1–6 (July – Dec. 1991), Infinity War #1–6 (June – Nov. 1992) and Cosmic Powers #1–6 (March – Aug. 1994). The character starred in the six-issue miniseries Galactus the Devourer (September 1999 – March 2000), written by Louise Simonson and illustrated by John Buscema, which climaxed with Galactus's death. Simonson originally conceived that the story arc would occur in the third volume of Silver Surfer, but the title was canceled due to dwindling sales. She proposed a separate limited series, and at the time was initially doubtful that Marvel would approve what she considered a "radical" idea concerning "why the very existence of the universe depends on the health and well-being of Galactus."
The consequences of Galactus's death are explored in the Fantastic Four Annual 2001 and Fantastic Four #46–49 (Oct. 2001 – Jan. 2002), resulting in Galactus's revival. The character features in the first six issues of the series Thanos (Dec. 2003 – May 2004), written by Jim Starlin. Issues #7–12, written by Keith Giffen, introduce Galactus' first herald (the Fallen One).
Galactus's origin is re-examined in Fantastic Four #520–523 (Oct. 2004 – April 2005), in which the character is temporarily reverted to his mortal form. After appearing in the limited series Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill #1–6 (March – Aug. 2005) Galactus was a central character in the "Annihilation" storyline, appearing in the limited series Annihilation: Silver Surfer #1–4 (June – Sept. 2006), Annihilation #1–6 (Oct. 2006 – March 2007) and the epilogue, Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus #1–2 (Feb. – April 2007).
Galactus was an antagonist in Fantastic Four #545–546 (June – July 2007), where he tried to devour fellow cosmic function Epoch. In Nova vol. 4, #13–15 (May – July 2008), the character had no dialogue. Author Andy Lanning said that he and co-writer Dan Abnett were "treating Galactus like a force of nature; an inevitable, planetary catastrophe that there is no reasoning with, no bargaining with and no escaping." Galactus also appeared in the limited series Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #1–3 (June – Aug. 2009), a sequel to Stormbreaker: The Saga of Beta Ray Bill.
Galactus and the Silver Surfer appeared as antagonists in Skaar: Son of Hulk #9-11, and as protagonists in the limited series The Thanos Imperative (June – Nov. 2010). Galactus was a member of the God Squad in the miniseries Chaos War #2–5 (Dec. – March 2010). After an appearance in Fantastic Four #583–587 (Nov. 2010 – March 2011), the character returned to Earth in Silver Surfer vol. 6, #1–5 (Jan. – May 2011) and was the antagonist in The Mighty Thor #1–6 (April – Sept. 2011).